While I wait for my results from the CFA Level I exam (due out on 29 July, 2014), I thought maybe it would be a good idea to document some of my observations about the exam. I took the exam on 7 June, 2014 in Munich, Germany. While I can not discuss specifically what was on the exam, I don’t think I would be violating the code or the standards by sharing some general information.

First of all, I was surprised at how many people were there. My back of the envelope calculation was that there were approximately 500 people sitting for the exam in Munich. I was only expecting 100 people or so to show up for the exams. The scale of the operation was immense. There were approximately 800 chairs. Each spot had a number and the highest number I saw was 762. The last 38 spots had no numbers on them. This means that either approximately 262 people did not show up for their exam (my guess), or we were just randomly spread out in the convention center and somebody got tired of numbering seats that nobody was going to use.

The demographics of the crowd was also a bit of a surprise. It was mostly young college-age people sitting for the exam and I was expecting an older mid-career demographic. My other back of the envelope calculation was that the test taking population was approximately 40% female. This was also unexpected. In my masters degree program at Creighton University, there is often one, two or zero women in the classes of 10-15 people. Perhaps European women are more interested in finance than American women?

A few people got really dressed up. Power suits, high heels and neck ties seemed a bit out of place for 6 hours of testing. Maybe they thought it was a networking opportunity or that job interviews with Bavarian hedge funds were imminent at the test site. I dressed like a slob with a Creighton t-shirt and sweat pants. Comfort was my primary focus when I selected my test-taking wardrobe.

I was a bit worried that the instruction portion of the exam was going to be “auf deutsch”. I speak enough German to survive and order a schnitzel, but something technical such as test taking would likely stretch my German comprehension abilities. I was worried I would misunderstand something and be banished for life from the CFA Institute for not following instructions. Luckily, everything was in English.

The biggest surprise of all however, was the realization that I am the biggest dork in Bavaria. At check in, your calculator is examined. My calculator drew intense scrutiny from the proctor. It seems that I am the only aspiring CFA candidate in Bavaria, who uses the HP 12C calculator and enjoys the finer points of Reverse Polish Notation (RPN). The proctor took my calculator and looked up at me as if I just handed him some alien artifact that he had never seen before. He then scoured these fold out  sheets showing the pictures of approved calculators. He did not know where to look for the HP12C and it took him a moment to find it. The candidate in line behind me was chuckling at the scene. After that incident, I looked intently for other candidates with HP 12C calculators. I was seated near the entrance and I arrived early, so I was able to observe many of the candidates’ calculators as they poured into the hall. I did not see a single HP 12C, save for mine. The other candidates probably thought I was kind of creepy as I stared at them trying to catch a glimpse of their calculators. I did not care what they thought and if they studied as much as I had, they would not care either.

Things I would do different in the future or if I could go back in time:

  1. Bring an extra calculator. I brought extra batteries, but you are allowed to bring an extra calculator, which seems even easier than bringing batteries, which can easily be dropped or lost.
  2. Bring a lunch and stash it in my car. During the lunch break all 500 candidates are marching to the same few places to eat. It was terrible, the zombie candidates descended upon local eateries like a swarm of locusts on Egyptian wheat. Luckily, I had some beef jerky in my car or I might have been taking on the afternoon portion of the exam with a growling stomach.
  3. Bring a hoodie. I was cold in the morning and plus a hoodie with a big front pocket can help carry things like passports, calculators and pencils. Plastic bags and items to help you carry your items are not authorized.

Well, I think that is it for now. I am hoping I made the cut and will not have to re-experience the CFA Level I exam again.